Friday, June 5, 2009

Why Krishna Killed Karna?

Most all casual readers or even a few astute followers of Mahabharata are easily fooled into thinking that Karna was killed by Arjuna. Even though throughout the Mahabharata, Krishna constantly indicates that Arjuna is nothing but an instrument in his hands. My previous blog about these two protagonists, Krishna and Karna, raised a lot of discussion regarding the two sides at war, with a lot of people getting lost in choosing between the righteous Pandavas versus the self-righteous Karna.

Rarely, if not no where, during the course of Mahabharata does Krishna speak spiteful of Krana. In fact there are several instances when he has sung the praise of Karna and also admonished Arjuna a few times, when he boasted about his skills or spoke ill of Karna. Krishna even reasoned with Karna, to support the just cause of the Pandavas, and not to blindly support his friend Dhuryodhana. Sadly, but well to his credit, Karna does not yield to Krishna's advice or guidance. It is this stance that has helped Karna accrue his league of supporters, 'steadfastness'. Unfortunately, loyalty to the wrong cause, can only be sympathized, and cannot be admired as a quality of a well read person.

So, then to the question, of the blog. Why did Krishna kill Karna? Many a commentator of Mahabharata, including me, believe that Krishna's role in this epic was clearly not portrayed as a person who always followed the rules. He, more than once, broke the rules to achieve his goals. A clear characterization, showing that the end is equally, and sometimes more important than the means. To some extent, it shows the evolution of the dharma professed by the hindu thinkers and gurus, that the power of evil was increasing, and a straight forward fight between good and evil, did not guarantee success. Even god, had to adopt to some trickery to fool and defeat the people on the wrong side of the law. The whole life of Krishna as depicted in the different stories, revolve in a very political world, where the forces of evil and good were even more difficult to determine clearly. Unlike Ramayana, in times of Krishna the big war was not fought with asuras or demons, instead it was fought between members of a family.

Karna stood by loyalty, over the choice of righteousness. It was this same steadfastness of Karna, that resulted in his death. Even upon learning that his brothers were the ones that were being discriminated, he did not try to reason with his friend, Dhuryodhana. He instead, clouded his mind with all the atrocities he suffered at the hands of the Pandavas, Draupadi, his own mother and even his own guru. His reasoning was flawed, for all his loyalty and by his own dharma of karuna. It appears that he himself was in a state of turmoil, and reasoned that his loyalty and support to Dhuryodhana, surmounted any and all other considerations. His skills and prowess now needed to be neutralized, and when all reasoning by Krishna and negotiations failed, death was the only option left. At the end it was war, and someone had to lose, because it was a kill or be killed battle. So, the helplessness of the opponent was an appropriate state, given the circumstances, and was fully utilized by Krishna.

With Karna trying to retrieve his chariot wheel, stuck in the mud, armed with no weapons, Krishna commanded Arjuna to kill him now, because there may not be another oppurtunity. He dismissed all pleas for mercy by Karna, saying he lost all his oppurtunity to ask for mercy earlier, and that there was no need to discuss about virtues at this stage, since he too was just as bereft when it make to virtuousness. He also dismissed any more discussions from Arjuna, saying the choice was not his, and he was just doing his duty, and as commanded by Krishna.